Have you ever taken a walk outside, taken a deep breath and instantly felt soothed? There’s the refreshing cool breeze hitting your cheeks, the warmth of the sun on your skin and you can hear the healing sounds of nature around you.
After months in lockdown, many people are rediscovering the healing balm of mother nature. And they can’t seem to get enough.
During this time you may have taken up a daily walk. Or wandering off-track into the wilderness with a hike on the weekends. Perhaps you are finding more time to spend in the garden, puttering around or simply sitting back and relaxing.
Whatever it may be, lockdown has enlightened many of us about the value of spending time outdoors. Not just for exercise or when we travel, but being outdoors gets to the core of our wellbeing. It soot and invigorates us.
The Scandanvians are very much aware of this concept, they call it Friluftsliv pronounced free-loofts-liv). The expression literally translates as “open-air living”. It was popularized in the 1850s by the Norwegian playwright and poet, Henrik Ibsen.
He used the term to describe the value of spending time outdoors for spiritual and physical wellbeing. Today in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark, being outdoors is part of Scandanavian culture.
Statistics reveal that one-third of Swedes take part in outdoor activities at least once a week. A 2014 study shows that eight in 10 Norwegian adults had been for a hike in the wo in the previous 12 months.
I couldn’t help but wonder how our Prophet (SAW) would escape the madness of Jahilliyah times by climbing up a mountain and spending time in solitude in a cave for days on end. And how much focus and clarity it brought him?
What can the outdoors do for us?
“Grounding,” a therapeutic practice of connecting yourself to doing activities in the outdoors and being in touch with nature, literally is said by psychologists to electrically reconnect you to the earth and expel negative ions/charges. Nazia Iram Osman a clinical psychologist explains.
It reiterates the feeling or sense of being connected to everything. Accepting that we are part of a bigger picture and nature is there to support us.”
During the pandemic many people were feeling stifled and trapped. When things began to open up, there was an inherent need to experience freedom in wide open spaces.
Nazia conducted a research study whereby she invited participants who were medical professionals struggling with the stressors of practicing during a pandemic. She asked them to send pictures of how they took care of themselves during this time.
Being in nature was the single most common theme. Next was finding joy in small moments and spending time with family.
Being in nature, or even just being able to see nature reduces negative emotions, anxiety and stress. It induces a sense of calm and interconnectedness.
Nazia continues, “Nature not only improves emotional regulation, but has also been found to contribute to our physical wellbeing by reducing blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and the production of stress hormones, cortisol which is suspected to play a part in poor prognosis of Covid pneumonia.”
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is prioritizing what is important. It has given us time to pause and concentrate on our loved ones. With economies opening up, many people have given retail therapy a miss. They are opting to explore their local outdoor surroundings with their families instead.
Recently I spent two days in an isolated nature reserve where we didn’t even have cellphone reception. I remember arriving feeling heavy with everything this year has thrown at us. But being surrounded by the birds and mountains without any distractions provided me an immense amount of clarity in a short space of time.
Even standing in prayer outside brings a new spiritual dynamic to our daily prayers. It allowed me to see my children through new eyes as we hiked, fished, and watched the stars at night. They did not even miss their devices. It’s only then that you realize that tools that are meant for communication can also be a barrier of communication between you and your close family members.
Spending time out with our family whether it’s just sitting in the grass or going for a cycle, also gives us a break from technology use and gets us to connect as human beings not human doings.”Nazia Iram Osman
Most of the time we are on our devices and connected to technology instead of people. A recent study showed teens spend around 7 hour and 22 mins a day on their devices and adults are not far behind. We check our phones at least 97 times a day.
Being away from these distractions and the constant pull of work and social media, is not just for our mental health but for sustaining healthier relationships as well.
Keep it Easy Breezy
While spending time outdoors is incredibly therapeutic for us, you don’t have to necessarily live in the wilderness. You may swap your work or school commute for a bike ride, or use an hour in the evening that you may have usually spent on the couch, popping out for a short walk, or take a beach run, or hike on the weekends.
Friluftsiv or having an outdoor lifestyle is about moments where we feel a connection to the world around us. That burning feeling in our lungs after a long hike uphill, the calmness we feel while sitting on the sand and watching the ocean’s waves, or even that refreshing breeze we feel against our skin when we open the window.
You may go walking, running, camping, or even decide to make salaah outside on the grass. Whatever you choose, whatever working for you, lessons are to be learned and contentment to be found in the great outdoors.